Though the Islanders’ 4-3 defeat of the Rangers at MSG tonight is of a more timely concern, let’s just pretend it’s still Wednesday morning while sucking on the history lesson provided by the New York Times’ Fred Bierman.
Although Potvin, who was the Islanders™ captain for eight seasons, retired from the N.H.L. in 1988, Rangers fans have turned an off-color, derisive chant that invokes his name into an institution at Madison Square Garden. Regardless of the opponent, the infamous Potvin chant is heard multiple times throughout any Rangers home game. Expect to hear it a few extra times when the Rangers play host to the Islanders tonight.
œIt is quite amazing that they™re still doing it, Potvin, now a television broadcaster for the Florida Panthers, said Thursday in a telephone interview. œThe whole thing has taken on a life of its own.
As time has passed, the chant has increasingly less to do with Potvin the player or the person. Instead, it has turned into a way for Rangers fans ” many of whom never saw Potvin play ” to express their general frustrations or to simply have a laugh during a lull in the action.
It was a check ” by most accounts a clean play ” on Rangers forward Ulf Nilsson on Feb. 25, 1979, at the Garden that instigated the chant. Nilsson was in his first season with the team, and Rangers fans had high hopes that he would spark their offense. But the hit by Potvin broke Nilsson™s ankle, knocking him out for the rest of season. The Rangers eliminated the Islanders in the playoffs that season and ended up losing to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals. But Nilsson never fulfilled the high expectations set for him..
The Potvin chant was originally heard after the tune of œLet™s Go Band, a song played by organists at sporting events throughout North America. In an attempt to quell what was considered a vulgar chant, Garden officials stopped playing the song on the organ sometime around the mid-1980s. The chant was kept alive by persistent Rangers fans who began whistling œLet™s Go Band to encourage the Potvin chant.
At first, there was a real sense of anger behind the chant; the upstart Islanders were the best team in hockey, and Rangers fans were taking out their frustration on Potvin, who became the scapegoat for much of what became a 54-year title drought. As the Rangers continued to struggle and Potvin eventually retired, the chant softened and turned into a humorous way to express the frequent frustrations inherent in being a Rangers fan.
œThe big difference now is that people yell it with a smile on their face as opposed to the hatred that once was, Potvin said. œIt™s just one of those things that™s passed from one generation to the next, I guess. Kind of like season tickets.